Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
This story from Luke can be so easily misinterpreted. Jesus often spoke in metaphor and taught with parables. To interpret Him literally, in this situation, would lead one to believe we can all avoid our responsibilities and spend our lives in prayer and contemplation of our Lord. While this would be nice, we all need to eat once in a while.
The following story is from the Desert Fathers – monks, hermits, and ascetics who spent their lives in isolated worship, starting in the 3rd century.
A Story from the Desert Fathers
A brother went into the desert to seek a community of monks. He went to Abbot Sylvanus and seeing the brethren working he said to the elder, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, Mary has chosen the better part.”
The elder said to his disciple, “Give the brother a book and put him in an empty cell.”
When the hour of dinner came he looked through the window to see who would call him to eat. Nobody came, so he went to the Old Man.
“Father,” he said, “Do the brethren not eat today?”
And he replied, “Of course we eat.”
“So why didn’t you call me?” the brother said.
The Old Man replied, “Because you are a spiritual man, you do not have to eat. You have chosen the better part, because you read all day long and have no need for food.”
Hearing this the brother said, “Forgive me Father.”
The Old Man said, “Martha is necessary for Mary. Without work there can be no prayer.”